Let’s face it, if you’re going to subtitle your novel ‘the shocking secret of World War II’, it’d better be shocking. And a secret. And it does mean you have to put together a novel to deliver the reader the knockout blow of said secret. Here, I’m afraid, while the secret certainly should have been shocking (and would be, were it true), when it finally came to it, I’d already pretty much guessed what the secret was and wasn’t all that shocked. And felt a little let down that I wasn’t.
The story is that Ben Peters, an American working in Paris in 1940, is to drive a car, a Bentley, loaded with a fortune in platinum. Pretty much the whole of France’s monetary resources, to Portugal. There, he is to rendezvous with the British, who will sail/fly him to safety. However, in return for their help, the British have decided he should also take a passenger or two. A Frenchwoman and her young son. Simples. But as the journey progresses, the pursuers and body counts pile up, it becomes more and more clear that the platinum isn’t the most valuable thing Peters has in his Bentley.
The secret of why the Frenchwoman and her son are so valuable, is the ‘shocking secret’ of the title. I’m actually not sure that Mr Robbie, wouldn’t in fact like us to be slightly confused by the title and subtitle of the book. Confused enough to wonder if this isn’t a non-fiction book and that what the secret is, is/was actually real. It’s just that by the time the secret is revealed (if you hadn’t sussed it before), the qualms you have over the not quite sharp enough dialogue, quick but limp romance and how on earth they could have driven a Bentley over so many rough, war-strewn French roads and over so much rough Spanish terrain, without losing so much as an ounce of the platinum hidden in various crevices of a pre-war Bentley – kind of obscure and therefore dilute the ‘revelation.’ Well, they did for me anyway.
It was a fine effort, I enjoyed reading it and it has many good ideas and a plot that actually hangs together more than most. A little let down by the execution though, as I mentioned. But don’t let that put you off, as others on Goodreads have obviously found this to be a very good book, giving it an average score of over 4 stars, if I remember rightly. So it’s probably just me dragging it down. To be honest, I found the writing and evocation of war-time Paris, to be more convincing than the chase which takes up much of the book once they’re out of the city. I felt the writing from then on could and should have been a bit sharper, a bit more polished. If you’re going to get someone on the front cover saying ‘An action adventure story in the tradition of Ken Follett and Robert Harris with the cutting edge of a Tom Clancy or W.E.B Griffin wartime thriller’, you have to make sure you deliver. And this, in the end, didn’t quite. This cutting edge felt a little blunt.